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Pa. lawmaker reflects on frustrating first session in House

July 27, 2007|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note:State Rep. Todd A. Rock, R-Franklin, recently returned to district work after his first session in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and sat down recently with Herald-Mail reporter Jennifer Fitch.

The budget process, which ended in a $27.2 billion spending plan signed July 17, included a one-day furlough of state employees. The furlough instituted by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell left nearly 24,000 state employees without work on July 9 and closed driver's license centers, state parks and welcome centers.

"The furlough didn't have to happen. There was funding there for two more weeks. That was the governor's own decision to use the state's employees as a bargaining chip," Rock said.

Rock said the bipartisan attitudes in the Harrisburg capital proved frustrating as did closed-door deals by party leadership and the governor.

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"It is very frustrating when this is going on, and the rank-and-file (members are) saying we want to settle this," Rock said. "They're making deals we don't know about."

In 2006, Rock, of Mont Alto, Pa., won a campaign against 18-year incumbent and fellow Republican Patrick E. Fleagle of Waynesboro, Pa.

Q: What was the highlight of this past session?

A: "I don't know if there was one particular highlight for me. I was there for eight months and just learning the process, for me, was very enlightening. When you're running for office and you hear of all the things going on in Harrisburg, it's a whole another story when you get there and see how it really operates. ... I was proud to vote for the budgets that didn't pass, the lower-spending budgets. For me, to really learn the process and how things really work in Harrisburg was exciting."

Q: What do you know now that you didn't eight months ago?

A: "I can tell you that, as far as the budget goes, for instance, as a rank-and-file member, I have very little input into what the final budget is. Our leadership goes into little rooms somewhere, and they do the negotiating for us. I put some things in writing that I would like to be included in the budget, but I don't really know if they're brought up at the table. ... I thought we would sort of give and take, and we would all have our input. That's really not the case. The leaderships get together and work with the governor."

Q: Is that something, then, that you'd aspire to: holding a leadership role?

A: "No. I have no interest in a leadership position. Those guys spend their entire life in Harrisburg. ... I'm not going to be there long enough. I'm going to term limit myself to 10 years, (and) you need to be there way beyond that to get into leadership. There's more to life than living in Harrisburg all the time."

Q: Was there anything that really disappointed you from the session?

A: "I went there having campaigned as a reformer. We went there with high hopes and 50 new legislators. The reform movement, it has made a difference, believe me. This budget, for instance, wasn't what I wanted, but it is (a) reduced (increase) from previous years.

We have made some progress there, but not nearly the progress I wanted to see happen. So many things that went into that Reform Commission never got voted out of committee. The term limits, reducing the size of the legislature, none of those are going to come to a vote because there's not willingness to make those changes at this point. I realize it's going to take more than one election to change Harrisburg. ... We have made a difference, but not to the point I thought we would the first year. ... School funding. That's another thing that was disappointing. (Waynesboro) got a 2 percent increase, Greencastle got 3 percent, but a lot of the bigger school districts around the cities (of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) got 8, 10 and 12 percent."

Q: What happened with House Bill 1100 and the rest of the so-called Taxpayer Protection Package?

A: "My part would hold state spending to either the cost of living or population growth. ... (However, it's) the disadvantage of being in the minority. The House Democrats control the calendar, and the committees have chairmans that are Democrat. So (they) can just say 'not interested' and that's all the farther it goes. I think this year highlighted the fact that we do need spending limits because the legislature on its own cannot control itself. ... $1.4 billion in new spending is not living within your means."

Q: What can be done to end the partisan politics?

A: "That I don't know. If you're in the minority, you just suffer until you get back in the majority."

Q: What have you done for Franklin County thus far?

A: "We're going to be getting grant money and all those kinds of things, but it's just a little early in the process to really make much of an impact after seven months. We stood up for Franklin County - not just myself, but Rob Kauffman (state representative; R-Franklin/Cumberland) and everyone associated with Franklin County - with the Mass Transit Bill. Although we voted against it, it didn't make a difference and still passed. Our residents are going to have to pay for mass transit in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. I didn't think that's right."

Q: Is there anything you're anticipating for the fall, anything you're looking to accomplish or do?

A: "I'm going to introduce some legislation in the fall that may get some bipartisan support. One is that we're going to try to provide a retirement for fire, rescue and EMS workers based on models of Maryland and a couple other states. ... I'm looking into some upgrades to Megan's Law to make it like the federal law."

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